Asia-Pacific Christine Martel-Fleming Cyber Security and Emerging Threats Defense Development Diplomatic Relations Security

China’s Role in Afghanistan after NATO’s Withdrawal

chinese and afghanistan

 Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Chinese President Xi Jinping

China’s investments and security commitments in Afghanistan will become much more significant as NATO and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops withdraw.

China’s influence in Afghanistan has significantly increased since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. This change of events is a result of two main factors. First, China will want to secure its investments. Secondly, Chinese national security will be more vulnerable when NATO leaves.

Previously, the Chinese used a non-interventionist foreign relations policy that can be characterized under Deng Xiaoping’s famous words“Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership.”

However, due to its increasing investments in Afghanistan and the 85 km border shared between the two countries, China is now required to ramp up its security within the region to mitigate any risks associated with its investments.


Afghan-Chinese trade is viewed as prosperous to both parties. Afghanistan, a country with vast natural resources has lacked the start-up capital to boost economic growth. China, on the other hand, has a great need for natural resources and has the financial resources to jump start growth in Afghanistan. For example, the Chinese invested 4.4 billion into the Anyak Copper Mine in 2008.

Anyak Copper Mine

Anyak Copper Mine

 However, increased stability is requisite for new investment. With the 2014 withdrawal of NATO-ISAF troops from Afghanistan, the security of the country is uncertain. There is always the looming threat of a full return of the Taliban, which would reverse much of the work done by NATO and ISAF. For years, the Chinese were able to benefit from the NATO and ISAF presence within the region, but when they withdraw, the Chinese government will need to provide its own security to protect the investments. In 2012, Zhou Yongkang, China’s domestic security chief and member of the Politburo, signed one of the first highly secret security agreements to fund and train the Afghan National Police.

The border shared between these two countries represents a security challenge for the Chinese government. In the western Xinjiang province of China, the separatist Uighur population has committed terror attacks that threaten China’s national security and result in social unrest. Many Uighur separatists from the Xinjiang region have received training from insurgents and jihadi militants in Afghanistan. This increased social unrest will require the Chinese government to rethink its foreign policy towards Afghanistan from non-interventionist to interventionist as the security problem crosses the border.

Post-2014, the international community will observe an important change in the way China operates in Afghanistan as the security threat is extended to its own borders. However, the international community must also be wary of China’s new economic role. When NATO/ISAF troops withdraw, China’s extensive investment in Afghanistan may not be conducive to the peace and security sought by the international community and many Afghans.

One major reason for this lack of stability is the unequal outcome that the Afghan people will receive from these large trade deals. China’s economic policies can hinder Afghanistan’s development. As seen in previous cases in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chinese firms often take a large percentage of the jobs that are needed by the host country’s own citizens while paying off the government to use the land and resources. The same situation has occurred at the Anyak Copper Mine. The Metallurgical Group Corporation, a Chinese firm which was awarded the 30-year lease to use the mine, has brought in its own people and its own goods. The above situation, an unstable government and corruption could seriously harm Afghanistan’s chances for peace.

Canada’s development work within Afghanistan has grown significantly. Since 2002, development assistance increased from 10-20 million dollars to well over 100 million dollars by 2012. Afghanistan is a country of focus for the Canadian government with thematic areas focusing on human rights, children and youth, humanitarian assistance and the promotion of regional diplomacy.As a result, China’s investments may not align with Canada’s work in Afghanistan. It is imperative for Canadians to understand the context of development in Afghanistan as a result of its foreign relations with other countries, especially China.


Christine Martel-Fleming
Christine Martel-Fleming is a bilingual graduate of the University of Ottawa with a Bachelors of Social Science in International Development and Globalization. During her university career, Christine served as the Volunteer Coordinator for the University of Ottawa’s International Development Week 2013. She has worked for a number of different federal government branches including Statistics Canada, Aboriginal Affairs and Elections Canada. She is interested in Sino-Canadian relations and recently spent four months in Chengdu, China to enhance her knowledge of Chinese politics and Mandarin. Twitter: @cmflem